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Holy Grail

Holy Grail

Since the publication of  The Da Vinci Code the debate rages as to what and where the true Holy Grail exists

 Taken as a whole, the various renditions of the Holy Grail legend, whether they derive from Europe or Asia, imply that there are many forms that the Holy Grail can take.

These legends assert that the Holy Grail can be anything from the platter mentioned by Chrétien de Troyes, the first author of the Holy Grail legend, to the Cup of Christ alluded to by Robert de Boron, or even the Stone of Heaven mentioned by Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzival.

Although it may seem confusing to those who equate the Holy Grail solely with the Cup of Christ, the Holy Grail was never only one object. In fact, states Grail researcher Emma Jung, Chrétien de Troyes was explicit in his Le Conte du Graal when he stated that his Grail platter was “a Grail, not the Grail,” thereby opening the “doors of perception” to the existence of many Grails.

The most famous historical Holy Grail manifestation is the Cup of Christ or Joseph of Arimathea’s Cup. This is the vessel that Joseph of Arimathea used to catch the blood and sweat of the Messiah after he was taken down from the Cross, and it is also the chalice that Jesus passed among his disciples as part of the first communion during the Last Supper. According to Robert de Boron’s version of the Holy Grail legend, Joseph d’ Arimathie, Joseph traveled to England with the Cup of Christ right after being incarcerated within a Jerusalem prison, where the Jewish authorities had placed him after the body of Jesus suspiciously disappeared from its tomb. One day while in his cell, Joseph found the Cup of Christ suddenly and miraculously placed at his feet by God, who then proceeded to explain “the secrets of the Grail,” which are the secrets of the Eucharist and how the rites of that sacrament reflect the Passion of Christ. Joseph was kept alive for many years by food and drink that would spontaneously manifest within the Cup of Christ, and he continued to remain nourished by the chalice until Jerusalem was conquered by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and he was released from prison. Fearing re-imprisonment and renewed torture from both the Jews and Romans, Joseph escaped to the desert with his family, where both he and they were continually sustained by the sacred Cup of Christ. Joseph died soon after the exodus, but not before placing the Cup into the care of his brother-in-law, Bron, whose inner guidance subsequently lead him north to Glastonbury, Britain, where he was told to deposit the Grail.

Thus, in de Boron’s version of the Grail it is Bron that carries the Cup of Christ to Glastonbury, however more popular versions of the same legend have it that it was Joseph himself who brought the chalice to the sacred city in England. According to one alternate version of the myth, when Joseph was still in Jerusalem the Archangel Gabriel appeared to both him and eleven other missionaries in and then instructed them to travel to Glastonbury in order to build a church in England dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Leaving Palestine with the Cup of Christ in tow, Joseph and his entourage finally reached the coast of Britain after a very long journey. Then, after sailing down an inlet leading to Glastonbury, which at the time was a marshland covered with water, they finally disembarked on an island now known as Wearyall Hill, which refers to the weary state the group arrived in. It was here that Joseph planted his famous staff into the ground and watched with jubilation as it immediately sprouted leaves and flowers, thus signaling to himself and his companions that they had completed their journey.

Once settled in their new homeland, Joseph and his companions followed Gabriel’s instructions and constructed St. Mary’s Chapel, which became the first Christian church in Europe. Twelve dwellings were built in a circle around this chapel, each of which faced the central Chapel, which thus became building number thirteen, the number of the Christ. It is believed that the Cup of Christ was placed within this central chapel, thereby uniting the Grail Cup with its owner, the spirit of the Christ. Joseph’s little Chapel was eventually torn down and a larger chapel rose to take its place, one that would later be incorporated into the structure of Glastonbury Abbey. But before Joseph died, it is said that he buried the Cup of Christ in one of the mounds of Glastonbury now known as Chalice Hill. Or, states an alternate myth, Joseph secreted his Holy Grail in the Chalice Well, where today blood-colored water, symbolizing the blood of the Messiah, continually flows out to nourish and heal all bathe in it or drink it.

But other legends abound, including one that states that Joseph did not die in Britain as believed. Instead, he left Glastonbury soon after constructing St. Mary’s Chapel and sailed south to Spain with his Holy Grail. Supposedly he landed at Barcelona and then proceeded overland to either Montserrat in the Pyrenees or Montsegur in France, two mountain refuges that later became linked to the Cup of Christ or some manifestation of the Holy Grail. Since Joseph’s era, both of these mysterious mountains have often been equated with Munsalvaesche, the holy mountain of Grail legend upon which the Holy Grail is said to be interred in the Grail Castle of the Fisher King.  

Which of the legends regarding Joseph can be relied upon? Discerning the truth becomes an even more odious task in light of the growing body of evidence that asserts that Joseph did even not bring a cup to Britain as thought, but instead arrived with two cruets or small flasks of “white and silver.” The image of Joseph and his two cruets containing the blood and sweat of Jesus has become a popular theme of poets, historians, and artists, who have placed stained-glass images of Joseph with his two vials in strategic British churches, such as the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Glastonbury and All Saints Church in Langport. And even though one legend asserts that the flasks remain buried with Joseph in Glastonbury, some scholars claim that they have since been located and remain in the care of private collectors or in museums. According to them, Joseph’s vials currently exist as the Hawstone Park Vial and the Zingaro Templar Vial. The Hawstone Park Vial, which is a small onyx flask found hidden within a statue in Hawstone Park in Shropshire, England, has the size and shape of Joseph’s legendary cruets. It is also nearly identical to the Zingaro Templar Vail, Joseph’s supposed second vial, the location of which first came to light in a 1995 article featured in The Boston Globe that proclaimed that “the Holy Grail had been discovered in Italy.” The newspaper described the Zingaro Vail, which has since proven to be a close match to the vials depicted with Joseph, as a small green flask, two to three inches in length, that had for sometime been in the possession of Rocco Zingaro di San Fernando, the Grand Master of an Italian branch of the Knights Templar  Supposedly the vial had been given to Zingaro by Antonio Ambrosini, another Templar, who discovered it in a Coptic monastery in Egypt. It is probable that the Zingaro Templar Vail arrived in England with Joseph and was later taken to Egypt; or perhaps Joseph deposited the vial in Egypt on his way to England. Either way, The Boston Globe is conclusive that at least one Holy Grail manifestation was in the protection of the Knights Templar just as Grail legend suggests.

MontsegurBesides Joseph’s two cruets that are reputed to have been deposited in Glastonbury, England, there was another famous pair of cruets filled with the blood and sweat of Christ that were taken out of the Middle East following the Messiah’s death. The owner of these vials was Nicodemus, who, like his close friend Joseph, similarly gathered up the blood and sweat that rolled off the Messiah’s body while assisting in the preparation of Jesus’ body before its internment. In order to hide his precious cruets, Nicodemus is said to have secreted them inside an image of the crucified Christ that he carved himself. Many scholars today claim it is still in existence as the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix that currently hangs in Saint Martin’s Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. Identified as a legitimate Holy Grail manifestation in the mediaeval Grail legend known as the First Continuation, the Volto Santo arrived in Italy after being hidden for many years in Palestine, during which time it was in the care of the descendants of one Isaac or Isaachar, a member of the early Church whom Nicodemus hand picked to guard the Volto Santo just before he died. Following their arrival in Italy, the two cruets of blood were quickly discovered within the image’s head by the bishops of Luni and Lucca, each of whom took one and placed it within his respective cathedral.

Complicating the identity of the true Holy Grail even further is the third person who assisted Joseph and Nicodemus in wiping down the crucified body of Jesus. This was Mary Magdalene, who used a white alabaster jar to collect the blood and sweat of Jesus. According to the Golden Legend written by the French Archbishop Jacobus de Voragine, Mary transported her jar to France in a boat crewed by her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus. Mary was also accompanied on her journey west by Jesus’ aunts, Mary Jacobi and Mary Salome, and one of Jesus’ seventy-two disciples, St. Maximim. The Golden Legend states that Mary and her companions originally set sail against their will right after the Ascension, when “heathens” sent them aimlessly adrift on the turbulent Mediterranean Sea “without any tackle or rudder…for to be drowned.” Fortunately, states the legend, “by the purveyance of Almighty God” they eventually landed safely in the French coastal city of Marseilles.

The accepted French legend has it that Mary Magdalene died around 75 A.D. after spending the last forty years of her life as a hermit in a cave in the French hill region of Saint Baume.  After her transition, Mary’s body was interred by her brother disciple, St. Maximim, in the chapel he administered in the village of Villalata, later renamed St. Maximim in his honor. Between the 3rd and 4th centuries, Mary’s body was placed in an ornate white marble coffin, where it remained until 710 A.D., when Saracens invading southern France compelled Cassian monks to move Mary’s remains into a less ostentatious coffin, and then secretly bury it. Finally, in 1279, Mary’s tomb was re-discovered by Charles, a nephew of King Louis IX of France. Her bones and accompanying sacred objects were dug up and became part of her Sacred Relics, which were subsequently interred in the Basilique Sainte Madeleine. Today, Mary’s Relics reside within in the French village of Vezelay, and her skull is the centerpiece of an annual procession through the streets of St. Maximim.

Unfortunately, the whereabouts of Mary’s alabaster jar currently remains a mystery. One legend suggests that it eventually became one of the prized possessions of the Cathars, a group of Gnostics who were exterminated in 1244 by a crusade organized by Pope Innocent and his Inquisition. According to this legend, leading up to their final decimation on March 1, the Cathars took their most sacred books and artifacts, which included both the Holy Shroud and a version of the Holy Grail – possibly Mary’s alabaster jar – and then sought refuge in their nearly impenetrable mountain-top fortress of Montsegur, the principal seat of the Cathar Church since the year 1230. While their fortress was under siege by soldiers of the Inquisition, two or more Cathars are believed to have clandestinely escaped down the side of the mountain with many of the Cathar treasures, including both the Shroud and Mary’s Holy Grail, and then to have hid them in the surrounding countryside. The recovery of the Cathar relics in southern France has been an obsession of treasure hunters ever since.

Could Mary’s Holy Grail still exist somewhere in the south of France? As strange as it sounds, Mary’s Grail may have been discovered and moved to another location by Hitler’s Nazis. In 1931, Otto Rahn, a German who believed himself to have been a Cathar in a previous incarnation, was sent to Montsegur by Heinrich Himmler to search for the lost Cathar treasures. Rahn discovered tunnels and caverns beneath Montsegur, but he died mysteriously before he was able to extract any of the treasure interred within them. Another SS officer, Otto Skorzeny, was then dispatched by Himmler to complete the job, and according to one eye-witness account he was later seen leaving Montsegur with a plane load of relics headed for Himmler’s secret fortress of Wewelsburg. Then, states an additional eye witness account from the end of World War II, a German Heinkel 277 V-1 left Salzburg, Austria, bound for the East, possibly Nepal or Tibet, with a plane load of cargo believed to include the ancient Cathar relics. According to Howard Buechner, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, on board the German plane were also “twelve stone tablets of the Germanic Grail, which contained the key to ultimate knowledge.”

Mary’s Holy Grail could, therefore, currently either reside in either southern France or in the Far East. But one alternate ending of its odyssey asserts that the Nazis eventually transported Mary’s Holy Grail from Berchtesgaden to Antarctica by a clandestine submarine and it now resides within a stone obelisk marking a cave in the Muhlig-Hoffman Mountains. This mysterious cave, known as the Emerald Cave, is supposedly linked by tunnels to caverns inside the Earth, where legends imply a subterranean civilization may exist. Interestingly, the Antarctic cave’s association with an emerald links Mary’s Holy Grail with the Stone of Heaven, a large emerald referred to by Wolfram Eschenbach in Parzival as being the true Holy Grail.

Mary Magadalene is also associated with a chalice that may, instead of her jar, be the real Holy Grail of legend. Some scholars contend that Mary’s chalice was part of the Arma Christi, the “Weapons of Christ,” a name for the relics of the Passion that were discovered in Jerusalem where Jesus was supposedly crucified. According to the 5th century historian Olympiodorous, Mary’s Grail, referred to as the Marian Chalice, was discovered by excavators working for the Empress Helena, the mother of King Constantine, as they sifted through the earth in the area of Golgotha, the reputed location of the Crucifixion. After its retrieval the cup was first taken to Constantinople and then to Rome, where it resided until the city was sacked by the Visigoths, at which point it was transferred to a secret location in England, possibly Glastonbury.

According to Graham Philips, British author of The Search for the Grail, the Marian Chalice was taken to the English Midlands, where for centuries, as a stone cup made of onyx, it was carefully preserved by the Peverel family of Whittington Castle. Sometime in the mid 19th century, a Peverel descendent transferred the cup to a hidden stone grotto, where it was later found by Walter Langham in the early 20th century and kept by his family. When Philips discovered the location of the Langham family nearly one hundred years later, he also found the onyx vessel. Since then, the jar has been dated by the British Museum and found to be a spice jar used during the first century after Christ.

But Philips’ conclusion that the Peverel cup is the Marian Chalice has not gained wide acceptance. Many Grail scholars maintain that after reaching England the Marian Chalice became known as the Nanteos Cup, which is a vessel made of olive wood and therefore a better candidate for being a household drinking cup used in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus than one made out of metal or stone. Supposedly the Nanteos Cup, currently owned by the Powel family of Wales, was hidden within one of the walls of Glastonbury Abbey for many years after arriving in England from Rome, where it had previously resided for hundreds of years following its sequester in Palestine. When Glastonbury Abbey was threatened with complete destruction at the hands of the iconoclastic King Henry VIII, the wooden cup was taken by the Abbey’s monks to the Nanteos Manor in Wales and kept there by them for safekeeping. When the last guardian monk was near death he asked the Lord of Nanteos Manor to safeguard the wooden cup “until the church claims her own.” Later, in 1878, the Powels of Nanteos Manor put the Nanteos Cup on public display and it has since become a national treasure.

Another chalice that may be Mary Magdalene’s cup is the Great Chalice of Antioch. This chalice, which was discovered in Antioch during the last century along with a smaller chalice and a cross, has been dated from the first to the fourth centuries and now resides in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Antioch Chalice has been set into an ornate silver reliquary and decorated with images of Jesus and the Apostles. Some antiquarians maintain that the Chalice of Antioch arrived in the city of Antioch via the Crusaders, who were returning a sacred chalice, perhaps Joseph’s Cup of Christ, to its rightful place in the Holy Land. Although the cup is very old, most experts have concluded that the Chalice of Antioch is too large and not antiquated enough to be the original Cup of Christ.